Separation of Faith and State

Something I wrote for the “Faith Matters” column in our local rag last month. It was written in a hurry because I was going on holiday, so it is a little rough round the edges!

Historically, the mantra, “Separation of church and state!” (SCS for short) was argued by parts of the church to prevent inappropriate interference by the state into the church’s affairs. However, in recent years it is more likely to be heard from the lips of humanists and secularists who want to get rid of any interference by the church into the affairs of the state. All well and good. Both institutions are answerable to God in for their government in respective spheres.

However, I believe advocates of SCS often confuse it with something may seem to be the same thing, but isn’t: “Separation of faith and the state!”.

We are seeing a growing number of cases across the country of Christians who work in the state sector being taken to employment tribunals for gross misconduct. Their crime? Expressing a faith-informed opinion in the workplace, at which someone else takes umbrage. For many people in the UK, a Christianity-informed opinion has no place in the workplace, either professionally or privately. This is separation of faith and the state.

This is a dangerous state of affairs and will force one of two things. On the one hand, Christians at work in the state sector will be forced to become “dis-integrated” people – having to hold to one set of beliefs at work and another set at home. On the other, Christians will no longer be able in good conscience to work for organisations that are there to serve the community as a whole – a distasteful form of faith-based segregation.

Segregation and/or disintegration of people is a dangerous direction for society to go. The church and state must operate in their respective spheres. But surely in a society that truly tolerates diversity we want integrated people contributing to its structures and institutions even if their lives are faith-based.

Stephen Dancer

Minister,

Solihull Presbyterian Church

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Separation of Faith and State

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